Cancer Registries: Increasing Screening and Awareness in Underserved Areas

Photo of a couple talking to their doctor.

Cancer registry data can be used to lower the burden of cancer in underserved areas.

When cancer registries learn that people who live in a certain area get cancer more often, or that their cancer is found at a later stage when it’s harder to treat, they can share that information with organizations who can try to figure out why and help fix the problem. For example, state comprehensive cancer control coalitions or non-profit partners can help more people get screened for cancer by offering free or low-cost screening services, bringing in a mobile mammography van, or spreading the word about screening services that few people know about. They can also tell people about things that can cause cancer, like smoking and indoor tanning, so people can make healthy choices and lower their risk.

The following examples show how cancer registries in CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries are using their data to fight cancer in underserved areas.

Ohio: Preventing Late-Stage Colorectal Cancer

Using data from the Ohio Cancer Incidence Surveillance System and the Ohio Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the Ohio Comprehensive Cancer Control Program found—

  • More than half of Ohio residents who get colorectal cancer each year are diagnosed at a late stage, after the cancer has spread from the colon or rectum to other parts of the body.
  • About two-thirds of Ohio residents have been screened for colorectal cancer as recommended. Colorectal cancer screening tests can find the cancer early or prevent it from developing.

The Ohio Comprehensive Cancer Control Program presented this information to OhioHealth, a group of not-for-profit, faith-based hospitals and health care organizations. OhioHealth strongly endorsed the statewide plan to increase colorectal cancer screening, and pledged to participate. Other health care systems in Ohio are likely to follow OhioHealth’s lead in this support.

Oregon: Educating High-Risk Cancer Survivors About Genetic Counseling

In 2013, the Oregon State Cancer Registry identified 2,801 people who had been diagnosed with a kind of breast or ovarian cancer that may be hereditary (passed down in families). The registry sent letters to all of the patients and their doctors explaining the risks of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and the benefits of getting genetic counseling.

A survey was included with the letter. Of the 399 patients who returned the survey, more than one-fifth of those who had not received genetic counseling said they now planned to see a genetics specialist in the next year, even though they did not plan to do so before they got the letter.

Louisiana: Treating Cancer Patients More Quickly

The number of new cases of a certain kind of anal cancer (anal canal squamous cell carcinoma) have been going up among people in Louisiana with a low socioeconomic status who are often treated in public hospitals. This kind of cancer is more common among HIV-positive men who have sex with men than in the general population.

In public hospitals, patients waited an average of 19 weeks from the first time they saw a doctor about their symptoms until they were diagnosed with this kind of anal cancer. Then they waited an average of 12 more weeks to begin treatment. Patients who were HIV-positive usually waited longer to be diagnosed than HIV-negative patients. This delay can make the cancer harder to treat.

The Louisiana Tumor Registry provided data on demographics, census-tract socioeconomic status, tumor characteristics, stage, and date of treatment for the patients who were treated for this kind of anal cancer in one public hospital. Hospital staff linked wait times with demographic data, HIV status, and cancer stage.

As a result of this review, doctors at the hospital found ways to diagnose and treat patients more quickly. Patients with this kind of anal cancer now begin treatment about 30 days after diagnosis.